Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has signed off on the declaration of five new national parks and nature reserves.
Most prominent among them is the Ramon Colors National Park at Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon), where over the past few years areas that had been used for mining and quarrying were rehabilitated. Two of the parks constitute an expansion of the array of parks and reserves in the Judean Hills. The total area of these latest declarations is 2,200 dunams (544 acres).
The Ramon Crater park is 1,132 dunams and is part of a region that for decades was a huge mining area in which several companies operated. The last quarry closed in the early 2000s. The huge pits left in the area were an eyesore that marred thousands of dunams of landscape. At the same time, the mining and quarrying exposed geological phenomena that made the area especially interesting to visitors.
The rehabilitation of the area was funded by the Quarry Rehabilitation Fund, which operates under the auspices of the National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Ministry. The work was supervised by officials of the Nature and Parks Authority, which aims to restore the original landscape of the crater, which is considered an internationally unique geological feature. The Mitzpeh Ramon Local Council was also involved in the process. A path that all vehicles can traverse was paved and serves as the starting point for hiking in the area’s nature reserves. The rehabilitation is not complete, and recently the Quarry Rehabilitation Fund solicited bids to perform additional work.
The additional reserves and national parks declared are:
The Katzir Nature Reserve, 121 dunams east of Katzir in Wadi Ara. The area is mostly covered with dense Mediterranean forest whose dominant species are the Palestine oak, mastic bush, terebinth and green olive tree.
The South Lahav Nature Reserve, over 31 dunams on the Lahav Hills ridge. The importance of this small reserve is that it is the southernmost distribution area of the ophrys umbilicata, a protected species of orchid that is one of Israel’s most beautiful plants.
The Har Giora Nature Reserve and an extension of the Judean Hills National Park, for a total of 900 dunams. They form a natural continuum of forest habitats that also have low shrubs that have greatly diminished in recent years.
The declaration of reserves and national parks is the final step of a process that begins with the marking of areas destined to be designated as reserves in area master plans. The Nature and Parks Authority can manage and supervise such areas but cannot carry out any enforcement activity until the lands are officially designated as protected areas.
“The process of declaring [parks and reserves] has become more difficult over the years and takes an average of 10 years,” said Nature and Parks Authority director Shaul Goldstein. In the coming years the authority plans to focus its efforts on advancing the declaration of marine nature reserves that will go from the shoreline deep into the sea.
Nearly 22 percent of Israel’s land area is nature reserves or national parks. The Nature and Parks Authority is responsible for 530 national parks and nature reserves, of which 373 are officially designated.